In response to the article ‘Transgender children know their identity…..’

The article ‘Transgender children know their identity. Bigots in the media don’t’ was published on the 25th May 2014.

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/may/25/transgender-children-gender-identity-bigots-media.
This piece was written by a parent of a child believed to have gender dysphoria-a child who was born male and who is now living ‘as a girl’. This is a response to some of the points raised-not as a criticism of the individual case involved, but analysis of the general issues  raised.

The article begins:
My seven-year-old child, although born male-bodied, has expressed herself as a girl since she could walk and talk. That expression translated into an articulation at age four that she was a girl “stuck inside the wrong body”. Reinforcing boyhood for our child began to lead to distress, upset and anxiety. What did we do? We kept reinforcing boyhood. What happened then? We found ourselves with a five-year-old who talked about wanting to die rather than be a boy. A five-year-old with a fascination for butterflies and caterpillars and mermaids who began talking about suicide …

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The question is how does a boy express himself ‘as a girl’? The real expression of being a young female is complex and diverse, unless you perceive that experience as specific behaviour and choices linking to extremely limited gender expectations. If so, the definition of any boy expressing himself ‘as a girl’ is based on nothing more than gender stereotypes-choices of toys, dress and/or behaviour that fit the narrow gender definition of what is expected of female child ‘femininity’ instead of  male child ‘masculinity’. What is ‘Reinforcing boyhood’ ? Society projects that which is acceptably ‘masculine’ and that which is acceptably ‘feminine’, assigned by biological sex.  All children are brainwashed into these ‘gender rules’ through socialization and being part of a world which engulfs us all with certain gendered expectations, which we then process.

Of course many children exist who do not/can not conform neatly to these ‘ideals’, expressing themselves in whatever way is comfortable for them. This is entirely natural and normal. In a society which so viciously enforces specific gendered identities however, children/parents may be extremely distressed and will seek answers to somehow ‘not fitting in’.

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The article continues:
‘The issue at stake for children such as ours appears to be firmly rooted in a gender identity not congruent with their natal sex: a condition called gender dysphoria’.
‘Gender identity’  is not innate, nor does anyone preform neat expressions of being male or female. Gender ideals are socially constructed which we as individuals then absorb, process and are heavily encouraged/influenced to act out according to our sex. These differ from culture to culture and throughout history.

The article states:
And yet, many people insist that any divergence away from a gender identity that does not match biological sex according to a strict binary of male and female is pathological or a deviation’.
By suggesting a boy is defined as expressing himself ‘like a girl’ presumably on the grounds of his own natural behaviour/choices, is actually endorsing strict and restricting ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ roles connected to biological sex. His actions are not perceived as ‘masculine’, therefore the conclusion is he is in fact…… ‘a girl’. It is this premise which is limiting and damaging as it emphasizes gender stereotypes and does not allow any natural deviation from limiting and oppressive gender expectations.

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The article then states:
‘….the world doesn’t seem to accept that our gender and our core sense of self is rooted in our minds and not between our legs.
Our biological sex is defined (unless we are intersex) by our biology. Concepts of gender however, associated with that biological sex with specific and limiting expectations concerning behaviour, choices, voice, attitude, dress codes etc, are rooted in culture. This in turn gives us a blueprint for behaviour which greatly influences and impacts on our lives. It is actually the potential reaction to a deviation from this, such as social pressures, bullying, rejection, violence etc which causes many individual’s suffering. It is therefore this we should be challenging.

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The article states:
‘The reality is that far more children who need puberty suppressants are not being prescribed them than are. …..Many who would benefit from this treatment actually do not receive it.’
If a child grows up surrounded by the damaging dichotomy of ‘masculine=male and feminine =female’, then not fitting neatly into such patterns will of course potentially cause them great anxiety. However, possible dangerous medical interventions such as suppressing puberty with hormone blockers, which may have lifelong negative physical and psychological impacts, are not the answer to society’s oppressive enforcement of gender rules on children. The drugs used have raised many concerns about brain development, fertility and bone growth etc….

Such procedures automatically define the child as the focus- ‘the problem’, perceived as needing medical attention in order for them to fit neatly-one way or another-into society’s ideas of gender normality. This is not the answer. We as a society must challenge the reasons why gender ideals both limit and oppress so many children and stop the idea that altering their lives with labels, life changing potentially dangerous medical interventions, drugs etc is the solution.

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15 Responses to In response to the article ‘Transgender children know their identity…..’

  1. Carol Steele says:

    You state – with some kind of authority, that “‘Gender identity’ is not innate” yet you ignore the mass of medical literature that seemingly contradicts that statement. What authority do you have to categorically deny the substantive body of medical research in this matter, I would be extremely interested to know and what are your qualifications in the medical field in order for you to negate this evidence?

    • There is no way of proving gender is innate while we live in a society where children are forced into specific and obvious gender boxes.
      There is certainly no definitive proof anyway that gender is innate and until there is, it is my opinion that the effects of socialization plus recent neurological research override any such theories. Following on from your comment do you therefore believe that any person who holds the opposite opinion can also only do so when they themselves have medical qualifications??

      The point of this post however is to address how children are forced into certain gendered expectations regardless of their actual natural forms of expression.
      Perhaps that should concern you more?

  2. In reply to ‘George’.

    There is much recent research to debunk the simple idea of male/female brains.This outdated theory has been referred to as ‘neurosexism’.
    ‘Individuals ‘gender traits’—their preference for masculine or feminine clothes, careers, hobbies and interpersonal styles—are inevitably shaped more by rearing and experience than is their biological sex’ is one conclusion in years of research by neuroscientist L.Elliot.
    Rebecca Jordan-Young’s recent book ‘Brain Storm: The Flaws in Sex Differences Research’ highlights the flawed nature of female/male brain analysis.
    As neuroscientist C.Fine states ‘As long as there has been brain science there have been—in retrospect—misguided explanations and justifications of sex inequality: Women’s skulls are the wrong shape, their brains are too small, their hemispheres are too unspecialized. Again and again, these hypotheses eventually find themselves hurled on the scientific scrap heap. But not before they become part of cultural lore and reinforce social attitudes about men and women in ways that hinder progress towards greater sex equality’.
    As far as the diagnosis of gender dysphoria in children is concerned, I seriously question the idea that children being referred-some as young as 3-5 year olds, have autonomously rejected their own biological sex and are unaffected by gender socialization and parental/medical intervention.

    • Tobysgirl says:

      Just a note: Fine is a research fellow, not a neuroscientist.

      • She’s referred to as a cognitive neuroscientist in all articles on her, including on the cover her own book ‘Delusions of Gender’. Do you perhaps mean Lise Elliot?

      • Tobysgirl says:

        Interestingly, on my copy she is referred to as a research fellow. There is no hint in the book that she has done any neuroscientific studies; she is the person with the phenomenal patience to read endless studies and to look up all the references the authors such as Brizendine use. She said she only wrote Delusions of Gender after hearing her son’s teacher make a stupid gender remark. Thanks for the tip.

      • Tobysgirl says:

        I finally looked her up; here is her self-description: Dr Cordelia Fine is an academic psychologist and writer. It was The Times who called her a cognitive neuroscientist. Considering what she has to say about the neurosciences (!), I think she might consider that an insult! I read social psychology at the tender age of 17, and she brilliantly uses social psychological studies to debunk junk neuroscience.

      • Politico says:

        One can be a research fellow and a neuroscientist. Being a fellow is an institutional title; being a neuroscientist is the professional practice.

  3. Tobysgirl says:

    There is no mass of medical literature proving innate gender identity.

    First, doctors are not taught in medical school how to engage in scientific research. So having qualifications in the medical field is completely irrelevant. Doctors are stunningly stupid regarding basic bodily functions; a good example is their inability to recognize the glaring symptoms of hypothyroidism. However, Dr Broda Barnes, PhD, MD, who wrote his doctoral dissertation on the thyroid, was an actual scientific researcher.

    Second, one cannot determine biological sex from a brain scan; how can one possibly determine an “identity”?

    Third, are you using doctors such as Brizendine (Harvard Medical, UC-Berkeley, Yale), author of The Female Brain, as examples of your mass of medical literature? The review in Nature stated: “[The book] disappointingly fails to meet even the most basic standards of scientific accuracy and balance. The book is riddled with scientific errors and is misleading about the processes of brain development, the neuroendocrine system, and the nature of sex differences in general.” In Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender, she wrote that Brizendine’s distortion of studies she cited in her references were rife. I highly recommend this book, which thoroughly debunks the sort of junk science used to “prove” innate gender differences.

  4. In response to ‘Tobysgirl’, thanks for the clarity on the issue.

  5. This is George’s reply (due to tech problems and me being off grid etc I wasn’t able to post original-apologies)
    ‘ I’d question the validity of any of your arguments here seeing as you ignore the fact that children are attempting – some successfully – suicide because of the intense disconnection they feel with their bodies due to gender dysphoria (whether you believe it’s social or biological, you cannot ignore the fact that it is taking lives).

    Secondly, even if you choose to pick up a few tenuous articles/studies about gender identity being a social construct, you’re still ignoring the abundance of literature, research, and personal experience that categorically state otherwise. Perhaps if you looked at Guillamon et al’s study of transsexual brain differences, or the largest ever study of genetic variation in transsexuals by the Prince Henry Institute (Melbourne), or Swaab’s research in to in-utero sexual differentiation of the brain, or maybe Alan & Gorski’s discovery that sex dimorphic nuclei exists in the hypothalamus of trans people, you’d see that you cannot refute the fact that transsexualism exists as a medical condition that causes severe depression when left untreated’.

    • I think you’re missing the point. My main concern IS for the welfare of the children and not making them a ‘problem’ in need of ‘treatment’ in a society with rigid constructed gender roles. Any child who feels suicidal because of not fitting into said roles and the pressures, bullying, violence etc this might entail of course needs much support.
      We however need to address the cause-a society with rigid social ideals of ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’ – not fill young bodies with potentially harmful drugs (that are associated with a whole heap of particularly horrendous side effects in many adults already using them for a variety of health conditions).
      Not all referrals involve teenagers, now very young children are being referred to clinics for not displaying adequate ‘masculine’ /’feminine’ behaviour according to what society expects of their biological sex.This is a very dangerous precedent. These children are doing nothing more than expressing themselves naturally. They do not have autonomy, they are being guided and controlled by the rigid gender rules of society, by parents, the medical profession and drug companies. Remember I’m not referring to adults here which is a different issue….. and not one for this post.
      I absolutely acknowledge that humans have many variants in their biological make up. There are of course biological reasons why biological sex in some people is not straightforwardly evident also. This has often wrongly been related to certain expectations in behaviour. The natural conclusion therefore is that children should be able to express themselves as they are and not be forced to alter themselves socially and/or medically to fit certain limited gendered criteria.
      The research by scientists and psychologists etc I highlighted is not just ‘a few articles’ but refers to years of research which supports the idea that gender is largely created by social conditions and often alters according to cultural and ideological requirements.
      (I don’t see the point of further discussion here as you have your view and I have mine…). The research you referred to has already been questioned in terms of research methods-using too small a sample of people etc.It certainly is not proof of anything in itself. Science more generally is not set in stone but ever evolving, nor is it free from ideological/financial oppressive societal influences.
      Certainly socially and/or medically enforcing the idea of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ identities according to biological sex is part of this-something I believe children should be protected from.

  6. Sorry George, I’m not going to continue this-its pointless.

  7. Fruitopia says:

    So if gender innately comes from the mind, no matter what your physical body is, by their own logic, it doesn’t matter that these people will appear to be the opposite gender. This makes hormone treatment for children with GID mere cosmetic surgery, as per their own way of thinking.

    Plus it needs to be said that even many cis straight girls are deeply ashamed by puberty, feel not ready and feel their innocence has been lost. This shame must surely contribute to female children with GID seeking puberty suppressants

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